Victory in Jesus

Bible Study with Jairus – Romans 5

Romans 5 continues the discussion of justification by faith, and takes it a step further. This chapter reassures believers that if they were reconciled to God while they were still his enemies, how much more will they be saved by his life! (ESV, Romans 5:10).

In the second half of the chapter, Romans 5 uses the word “reign” in four different contexts. Today, we will discuss the relationship of these four “reigns.”

The first time the word appears is in verse 14: “Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses.” (ESV) Verse 17 says, “For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (ESV) Both verses are discussing the reign of death.

The second use of the word “reign” is the reference to believers, who have received abundance of grace, who will “reign in life.” (Romans 5:17 ESV)

Reign is also mentioned twice in verse 21: “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (ESV) In this verse, the sin that reigns in death is contrasted with the grace that reigns through righteousness.

Let’s look at these concepts in detail. First, God tells us that death reigns. The power of death was in the hands of Satan. When Jesus won the victory on the cross, he seized the keys of death and hell.

How and when does death reign? Verse 14 clearly says that death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. A question remained: did death continue to reign from the time of Moses to the time of Christ? Why doesn’t the verse say that death reigned from the time of Adam to the time when Jesus came?

We know that after Christ’s coming, He reigned in righteousness through “grace.” The reign of grace in these passages refers to the Lord Jesus. Furthermore, believers can reign in life through Jesus Christ. Finally, the passage explains that sin reigned in death. This fact may answer the question we posed. Perhaps death reigned from Adam to Moses, and then sin reigned through death from the time the law was given to the time when the Lord Jesus came. This period is called the Age of Law.

These reigns can be a bit confusing, so let’s look at them in more detail through the lens of four people who reigned.

The Reign of Satan.

The first person who reigned was Satan, who is the embodiment of death. Originally, before the fall of man, Adam reigned in the Garden of Eden. He controlled everything. God instructed him to rule over all the plants and animals in the garden, including the serpent which represented Satan. But the serpent enticed Eve. Adam and Eve violated God’s command by eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the process, they accepted death (which is Satan himself), Adam lost his position of authority, and the world was given over to Satan. During Jesus’ temptation in the desert, Satan mentioned that he had the authority to give the entire world to Jesus if He worshipped him. It appears that Satan did receive the authority to rule the world from Adam. In other words, the first person to reign following Adam’s sin was Satan (death). Romans 5:12 says, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.” (ESV) Adam’s sin brought in death, which is Satan’s essence. Satan’s reign of death came into the world through Adam’s sin.

When God created man, he breathed his life into the dust of the ground. A living soul was created (Genesis 2:7). When Satan counterfeits the work of God, he combines our weakness with his own evil influence to create a fallen, sinful Adam. This sinful Adam has completely internalized the rule of sin.

Verse 13 continues, “For sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.” (ESV) What does this mean? Let me give an example. My wife suggested that we should not discipline our little daughter before the age of three. Instead, we should let her play and enjoy her childhood. But when she is three years old, we should start to set rules for her. If she makes mistakes, we should discipline her. This is what establishing the law means. God is our Father: the father of Christians, the father of the Israelites, and the father of all mankind. God did not count sins against us before the law was established, because we didn’t know any better. Since Satan tricked Eve, this sin was charged to Satan’s account, not ours.

After Adam sinned, God promised that the offspring of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). This prophecy refers to Jesus Christ. He came to destroy Satan, the serpent of old. Christ was not only born of a virgin, but he was also born under the law (Galatians 3:24). The Age of Law is no longer included in the Reign of Death. Why?

First, the law sounded Satan’s death knell. When I was young, I used to shoot off firecrackers every year at our Chinese New Year celebration. As a very young child, I enjoyed firecrackers, but I was afraid of burning myself. Our next-door neighbor’s fingers were blown off by firecrackers, so I invented a way to protect myself from them. I wrapped a long strip of paper around the firecracker core to serve as a very long wick. I would light the paper and have time to run away before the firecracker exploded. I watched the paper burn slowly until it finally lit the firecracker.

Once the paper was lit, a chain of events had been set in motion that would ultimately and inevitably lead to lighting the firecracker. In the same way, once the law was given, the chain of events had been set in motion to usher in the salvation of Christ. The purpose of the law was to bring us to Christ (Romans 14:4). Although Jesus Christ came long after the law was given, the heavenly plan had already been set in motion. Like the firecracker I ignited as a kid, the death and resurrection of Christ “blasted away” the enemy.

Why do the Chinese light firecrackers during Chinese New Year? Legend says that there’s a ghost called “Nian” that can be driven away by shooting off firecrackers and decorating the sides and top of doors with red strips of paper. From this tradition, some people inferred that ancient Chinese people might have known about the God of Israel and inherited some of the traditions of Israel. Some people say that these red decorations mimic the lamb’s blood that the Israelites painted on the doorposts during Passover.

Although the giving of the law did not immediately bring about change, Satan’s death knell had sounded. This may be one reason why Paul said that death reigned from Adam to Moses.

The Reign of Sin and the Law.

After the giving of the law, death no longer reigned. Who reigned after the law was promulgated? The law of God reigned during the Age of Law. Those who wholeheartedly followed the law would gain life.

However, no human was capable of following all the laws. Violating even one law was as serious as violating all of them. James says “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” (ESV, James 2:10). The law provided a way of life if they were followed wholeheartedly. But since people could not follow them all, sin began to reign through death.

First, death reigned through Adam, before the law came. Second, sin reigned in death. After the law was given and before the coming of Christ, sin wielded total control. The direct reign of Satan and death were over, being superseded by the indirect rule of the law and sin.

Sin and the law are related to one another. Romans 5:20 says, “The law came in to increase the trespass.” (ESV) Let’s refer back to the example of disciplining children. Only after rules have been made can you be held accountable for breaking them. It’s not that the child made more mistakes, but that her mistakes are now being brought to her attention.  

The law sets up the rules. Its function is to expose people’s sins. For example, the Old Testament records that after God gave the law about the Sabbath, a man was found gathering sticks on the Sabbath and was taken to Moses. Moses asked God what to do. God told Moses to allow the Israelites to stone him (Numbers 15:32-35).

Yes, sin existed before the law was given. People had been rebelling against God since the time of Adam. But after the law was given, people sinned willfully and knowingly against God’s commands. This man was held accountable because he clearly understood and violated God’s law.

The reign of Satan and death are no longer in view here. Instead, sin becomes the subject who rules, by means of death. How is this different from the first point?

Let’s use the example of a drug dealer. At first, the drug trafficker will trick you into trying drugs. The drug dealers reign through death (drugs). But when you get hooked, you are addicted to drugs. There is no longer any need for the drug dealer to ask you to take drugs. You have the life of the drug addict inside yourself. You naturally want to take drugs. At this stage, the drug dealer can go to jail or go into hiding, and you will still have the life of the drugs living inside you. The drug dealer no longer controls you directly; rather, the drug itself controls you. Drug dealers bring drugs. Drugs will take you to drug dealers to buy more drugs. In the same way, sin brings death, and death brings more sin. This cycle continues.

During the reign of death, sin comes from seduction. Satan tried to seduce people into sin, and drug dealers try to seduce you into taking drugs. This temptation takes advantage of your weakness, but if you resist and refuse, the seducer has no power over you. If you refuse to take drugs, drug dealers simply can’t do anything with you. Satan tried to tempt the Lord Jesus, but the Lord Jesus did not sin, so he couldn’t do anything about it. Satan (the drug dealer) is powerless apart from our own human weakness and desire to sin.

During the second stage, sin (drug addiction) reigns. Because of your weakness and sin, you have already accepted drug addiction (or the life of sin) into your innermost self. This is why the Bible says that “sin reigns through death”. Your weak, depraved and addicted life is in complete control of you. This life will lead you to look for a drug dealer (death); every time you find a drug dealer to buy drugs, you will sink deeper. Many people take drugs because of their weakness but later became addicted to substances. They even commit murder, theft, and other crimes, turning into evil drug dealers themselves.

What is the role of the law? The law functions as a drug treatment and rehabilitation center. The purpose of the law is to punish and correct. If you cannot get sober, you will be locked up. If you are clean for a certain amount of time, you can return to society. Without strict laws making drug trafficking illegal, it would be impossible to correct these behaviors.

In the same way, God gave the law through Moses so the Israelites would know they could no longer live a life of sin. There would be punishment if they violated the law. The purpose of the law was to help them get rid of their sin of drug addiction.

But the function of the law is limited. Although the law brings life, and God justifies those who keep the law, people often find themselves unable to keep the law. The law of sin and death in our flesh wars against the law of God in our minds (Romans 7:22-23) Often, the flesh wins against the law of God, making us distressed and conflicted people. The third law Paul discovered in Romans 8 was the law of the Spirit of life. This law set him free from the law of sin and death.

In other words, there are three laws inside us. The law of sin and death resides in our fallen flesh. The tendency to serve God’s law resides in our soul, because God created us good. Finally, the law of the Spirit of life resides in our spirit.

The law fights unsuccessfully against the sins of our flesh. Although we want to keep God’s law in our minds, our flesh cannot keep God’s law. Though we try to overcome sin, death reigns through the drug addiction we previously accepted. The law, which was meant to usher us into life, instead becomes a tool for death. But because the flesh is so powerful, we violate the law and are convicted by it, leading us to more death. The law becomes a tool to kill rather than to give life. Paul says, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Of course, it is not the law’s problem. It is a problem of the sin (drug addiction) of the flesh.

As a result of this continual fight, we realize that we humans cannot get rid of the influence of sin through our own efforts, even by keeping the law of God. We need a Savior to save us and remove the sin of the flesh. In this way, the law led directly to Christ.

The Reign of Jesus (Grace)

When the Lord Jesus Christ came, He became the Grace from God. He never sinned, and he overcame Satan and sin on the cross. The grace of Jesus Christ reigns through righteousness, in heaven and on earth. Through shedding his blood for us, Jesus satisfied the requirements of God’s righteousness, thus ushering in the reign of God’s righteousness. When we are justified through faith, we also become the righteousness of God through him.

Even after trusting Christ as Savior, many Christians fail to overcome the sins of the flesh. Although Jesus has already provided grace and power to help us overcome the sinful life, many people do not live a victorious life because the flesh is too powerful. These believers lack renewal in their souls.

Though the Lord Jesus has accomplished salvation on our behalf, many people do not believe Him and cannot access his salvation. Similarly, because of unbelief, many Christians are unable to experience the law of the Spirit of life working in their hearts. Although they are saved by faith, many Christians need more faith so they can be changed by the law of the Spirit of Life. The law of the Spirit of life is as powerful as electricity. But unbelief and sins of the flesh are like insulators, rendering this power inoperable.

If we are really justified by faith, we will also live by faith. As we live out our faith, we will accept the law of the Spirit of life that God has prepared for us.

A Christian may go through four stages in their walk with God. First, Satan controls them through death, just like a drug dealer controls his victims through their weakness and sin. Second, individuals are controlled by the life of sin itself, like an addict who is controlled by the addiction itself. Third, Christians try hard to keep the law, hoping to be a good Christian, but find themselves unable to overcome the law of sin and death. This is like an addict trying to break his addiction on his own. Finally, Christians may experience freedom through the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, which enables them to overcome the law of sin and death.

Sadly, many Christians live in the first three stages. In order to enter the fourth stage of reigning in life, we must know the following:

  1. Satan has been dethroned through Jesus’ work on the cross. The drug dealer is already in prison. He can no longer influence you. The only way he can influence you is through your own flesh. The first reign, the reign of Satan (death), has been defeated.
  2. Your flesh and the old man have been crucified with Christ on the cross. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (ESV, Galatians 2:20). The second reign, the power of sin and the flesh, has been defeated as well. As we set our minds on the things of the Spirit, we experience life and peace.
  3. The purpose of the law is to usher in the reign of Christ. When Christ came, the law had completed its work. Salvation cannot be achieved through good deeds and human effort. We must rely on the life of God, the lamb of God. An apple falling from a tree will be overcome by the force of gravity, and our attempts at perfection will be overcome by the sins of our flesh. The law tried to help our nature overcome the sin of the flesh, but it ended up condemning us. However, Jesus is like a spacecraft that can help us overcome the law of gravity to bring this apple to the moon. Jesus’ grace reigns in righteousness.

Believers Reign in Life.

Although His grace already reigns through righteousness, we need to choose to allow this grace to live in us. We must allow the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ to move freely in us so we can reign in life. Jesus already won the victory, establishing the law of the Spirit of life inside you when you received him. But you have to allow this powerful new law to rescue you from the power of sin, the law, and the flesh.

Once you received Jesus Christ as your Savior, the drug dealer (Satan) and the drug addiction (the life of sin) was taken care of by Jesus on the cross. The drug treatment center or drug rehabilitation center (law) were proven to have limited efficacy. There is only one way to be rescued: accepting the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ by faith. By doing so, you will be freed from the law of sin and death in the flesh, and from the conviction that inevitably comes when you try to keep the Law on your own in your mind. Once you open your eyes to these spiritual truths, you will experience freedom to reign in Christ.

In summary, Romans 5 continues to discuss victory by faith. If we were justified by faith, much more will we be saved by his life (5:10). May our spiritual eyes be opened and may our faith increase so that we can live out the law of the Spirit, reign in life and overcome sin, the flesh, the world, and the power of Satan.